The city refuses to station traffic-safety agents near ongoing construction projects on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, putting hundreds of area students’ lives at risk as they walk to school each day, according to a local civic leader.
“There are two middle schools located between 40th and 41st streets, and the thought that there wouldn’t be traffic agents at this pinch point when there’s well over a thousand kids crossing every day is horrible,” Zak Jasie, chairman of Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee, said in reference to Fourth Avenue learning houses IS 136 and MS 821, Sunset Park Prep.
Last summer, leaders of the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority requested Police Department agents monitor traffic along the avenue between 40th and 60th streets, ahead of planned repair work to subway tunnels on the N and R lines and at the 59th Street station.
Reps for the Transportation Authority told CB7 members in August the agency would work with local police to install the traffic agents before the start of construction, which required closing lanes on Fourth Avenue in order to set up equipment-staging areas, and setting up barriers that narrow the busy road to a single lane at points, occasionally blocking sightlines for motorists and pedestrians.
But no agents were in place when work kicked off later that month, according to the panel’s top staffer.
“They came to us in August and told us they had money in their budget for traffic agents, then the project started and no agents materialized,” said CB7 District Manager Jeremy Laufer.
Laufer, fearing an impending disaster amid what he described as a “traffic mess,” in October wrote to Police Department brass, describing crosswalks on that stretch of Fourth Avenue as “a frightening experience,” and demanding cops heed the state agency’s request for agents to monitor the road.
“The situation is dangerous and intolerable and we fear that our constituents’ lives are in danger because the promised traffic agents have not been assigned,” his letter read.
The CB7 district manager claimed cops never responded to his letter, but Police Department spokesman Lt. John Grimpel told this newspaper that authorities chose not to reassign traffic agents on other posts to Fourth Avenue after surveying the situation, despite the local civic gurus’ and state transit officials’ requests.
Grimpel argued the department lacked the funds necessary to beef up enforcement on Fourth Avenue, but Transportation Authority spokeswoman Amanda Kwan claimed the agency set aside $2.5 million specifically for that purpose.
Kwan added that the authority turns to city officials for enforcement support when its projects affect local streets, because the state agency does not have jurisdiction over those roads.
“We don’t have the ability to enforce traffic such as impose fines,” she said.
Police have not entirely ruled out diverting resources to Fourth Avenue, however, and will continue to liaise with state transit leaders about traffic issue, according to Grimpel.
“We are always willing to talk to our partner agencies regarding community concerns,” he said.
The disconnect between city and state agencies on the Fourth Avenue traffic issue is just the latest example of government officials at all levels failing to properly serve their constituents, according to Jasie.
“It’s a failing of how these situations get dealt with in New York City,” he said. “Somehow the two agencies can’t seem to coordinate. This is indicative of the way things happen in the city, and in Sunset Park.”